Paulo Sotero – Estadão, 7/31/2012
Still in a state of amazement after watching the beautiful spectacle of the opening of the Olympic Games in London, I was abruptly brought back to reality after seeing a headline from a Brazilian website. The article reported that the ex-senator and ex-minister Marina Silva had “stolen the scene” of president Dilma Rousseff, who was present at the ceremony, when Silva entered the stadium carrying the Olympic flag accompanied by other figures selected for their dedication for promotion of peace.
It is evident that Marina Silva’s participation in the ceremony did not take away from Dilma or anyone else. On the contrary, Silva added a virtuous presence for Brazil at the ceremony, as a female visionary, a founding member of the Workers’ Party, and as a person whose biography and political career has had a global influence. The fact that Marina’s proposals for challenges to sustainable development have been rejected as naïve and impractical by many does not diminish the importance of her message; Marina encourages a model of growth that reconciles the preservation of the environment and the richness of Brazilian biodiversity with the reality of exploitation of our natural resources and along with the expansion of food production.
The news got me thinking about the show that will open the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in four years. There will not be a lack of stories or characters that inhabit our collective imagination and sense of humor that leaves us saying cheers to the world’s common celebration that feasts our eyes and warms our hearts. We are a population of happy and welcoming people. We have our McCartney’s and Rowling’s, not to mention the marvelous scenery that the once capital city could offer for an Olympic event, despite all the doubt.
The size and complexity of the event certainly does not intimidate a city that, during carnaval, becomes the stage and audience of a festival of street performances, each one of them with thousands of people who move punctually with vigor and grace amongst gigantic sets, in a demonstration of the competence and talent that goes against the notion which suggests our people are disorganized. Yes, we will be constantly evaluated during the next four years as we take on the commitment to prepare the projects and infrastructure necessary to host the Olympics. Just as they did before the Olympic Games in London the press will raise doubts-which is good to do- about the progress of preparations, the cost of contracts, and whether or not it was worthwhile.
But when the day arrives in July of 2016, all of this will be in the past. We will have had to decide how to use this unique opportunity to launch our opening ceremony for the Olympic Games as the host country, especially as a newcomer to this role, to present ourselves the rest of the world. What can we tell everyone about our country of about one billion people that will watch this esteemed event as a global debut of emerging Brazil when we excitedly commemorate the decision of the International Olympic committee for giving us the privilege to organize the game? What will be the mood for the festivities? We are good at praising ourselves (we even have Apotheosis Square), but we are equally self-critical, which sometimes becomes self-inflicting. The difficulty, often illustrated by the speech of politicians, and amongst others as well, is to find the middle ground.
The ceremony in London presented the world to post-imperial Britain, mixing fantasy and reality, history and culture, past, present, and future, all seasoned with a dose of British humor by the artistic director of the event, Danny Boyle, and with help from the queen herself in a scene with Daniel “James Bond” Craig. The presentation of the Industrial Revolution, perhaps the greatest contribution of Britain to the world, portrayed both oppression and progress. One scene that perplexed a Brazilian columnist was when nurses appeared caring for children, with the help of dozens of Mary Poppins falling from the sky. The scene celebrated the times of austerity in which the conservative government [implemented] the National Health Service, a public institution the British are very appreciative of and are proud to flaunt to the world. Boyle confirmed that the political message of the scene was: “One of the central values of our society is that, not matter who you are, everyone receives the same treatment in respect to health”.
One Brazilian commentator wrote that they enjoyed the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games in 2008 more. Personal taste is not a valid argument. But the Chinese example is of little value to us. We are, like the English, westerners. We live in a multiracial and democratic society, always dealing with crises and setbacks. The games in London began under a worsening economic recession in England and the criminal indictment of two friends of Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, one of them his former aide to communication, because of a scandal produced by yellow journalism- also a British by product. The economy and our politicians will not fail to give us similar problems in the next four years.
But the opening day of the Olympics will come and we will have to tell the world, in a three-hour spectacle, who we are, and what we pride ourselves in as a nation. What will be our story? We certainly do not lack talented directors. With full creative freedom, we will show them our strengths and our challenges, celebrate the hope that moves us and our ethnic diversity, culture and politics that motivates and empowers us, and gives credence to the transformation that the country has experienced for the past three decades. In this road to transformation we can encompass the poor and the Bolsa Familia, Machado de Assis and Paulo Coelho, the samba dancers, the Maria da Penha Law, Marina Silva and Blairo Maggi, corruption and the Ficha Limpa, and finally Emily and Saci-Pererê. The alternative is to let ourselves be guided by the concern to avoid setbacks in Brasilia and allow such issues to steal the scene.
Paulo Sotero is the director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. This article was originally published in Portuguese on July 31, 2012 in Estadão. It was translated into English by Elizabeth Sweitzer, intern at the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute, in Washington, D.C. View the article in its original format here.